A politician's progress

It's been a tough few weeks for Tony Blair, a prime minister caught in the Slough of Despond. How should he proceed? Here is John Nicholson's advice, with apologies to John Bunyan

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Dismal stories. They plague me. But they rebound on the tellers. I'm valiant. I won't sink in a quicksand of panic and gloom.

Dismal stories. They plague me. But they rebound on the tellers. I'm valiant. I won't sink in a quicksand of panic and gloom.

It is another story in those dreams. I'm alone. Wandering without any sense of where I am, where I'm going or who I am. Deserted derelict places. Is it England or some abstraction? It is not the New Jerusalem we are building.

While I wander around, getting nowhere, at least I spend my time profitably, revising my list of suspects. I am not a novice. You rearrange their faces and give them all an abstract name. Mr Little Faith from the town of Sincere who was mugged by Faintheart, Mistrust and Guilt. Guess who?

The other night was worse. I was held by a giant despair, sitting in the dungeons of the Castle of Doubt. The view of my promised land was blocked by the Range of Difficulties.

I just have this nagging sense of nameless dread. Who is Mr Unfaithful? Or Ms Unfaithful? Someone is trying to stab me in the back, but who? Of course I know the bald one is taking advantage of the whispers. I would, too, but who is behind it? The father of lies?

I tried to talk to Cherie but she just told me "Have a nice glass of Château Lafite. Go to bed. You'll be better in the morning." Who can blame her? All that wailing and gnashing of baby teeth.

My family means everything to me. But I'm just grateful there is no automatic right of inheritance, like monarchy. I'm professing my faith before my mentor while Euan is lying in a puddle of disgrace. Forgive them? Who wouldn't? My wise one, Professor Kung, said he was looking at "the old young me"! Resolved, I must be strong enough to manage on my own. But I woke up feeling worse.

What a choice. My days are filled with hell at home and hell at work. The nights are almost preferable.

I hear voices tempting me to take the easy way out. Old Believers on the Old Path, Formalist and Hypocrisy. What quicker way to outer darkness? Who can I turn to? In this business you can't trust anybody, least of all yourself.

Advice? I am surrounded by it. Who can tell you which to choose? What would Mrs T have done? Who told her what was best? All the focus groups don't bring focus, just more choices.

Why can't I stop thinking there is somebody else here, watching me? In all this emptiness, waste and muddle all I am certain of is somebody must be responsible. That means there is somebody else and they are plotting.

Why pretend those leaky stories are forgeries? I don't have confidence in us either. They were put out by our people. There are so many agencies working for us now I've lost track. It's easier to take time off and run the country. That's a relief from the hard work of intriguing. Did Mrs T suffer from plots? I suppose it goes with the job, so grumbling won't solve anything.

Could it be Mr Envy? Mr High Mind? They are easy to outflank. They won't get over the first hurdle. They really believe power is abstract. Amateurs. They don't realise the momentum of office. If you have the post you have the chance. So simple. I don't have to worry, they will destroy themselves. Mr Pliable has even less chance than Mr Worldly Wiseman. How nice to be able to gaze out across the river when you need a breather. I'm stuck here dreaming of Tuscany.

Remember Mr Pure? He looked so neat, all in white. A couple continually threw dirt at him. Guess who they were, Mr Prejudice and Madam Ill-Will. How long would any of them last in this desolate place I inhabit every night when I close my eyes? All their clichéd swindles evaporate in the glare of the dream. They have no more strength than the one who dare not speak his name. The one from the town of Glibness who believes he can talk his way out of anything. He even pretends he is somebody else: "That wasn't me. Somebody said it was me out of spite. I don't complain though. That would be petty."

I learned a lot from him, but there is more to it than that. He really is ignorant if he expects to do it on his own, without allies.

What do they want of me? I provide a life without stress, but they want change. We went through that once. Too much would frighten them.

Would they really like fire and brimstone? Abolition of privilege? A return to the real England which stirred the world? Didn't it convince me to join the faithful when they were scorned?

After I woke up I did some heart searching. Was I wrong then or wrong today? Where had the true old young me gone, my first avowed intention? How had I strayed from my true way to false paths? It was the courage of my convictions which had brought me this far, not the tempters. If I followed the light I would find the next step.

I could see a fire burning. A man was throwing water to extinguish it. But a mysterious hand was pouring oil on the fire. I understood. The water came from Satan to extinguish Faith, God pours oil to save the flames.

John Nicholson is a historian and founder of the 'Bunyan Studies Journal'.

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